New York City, for all its diversity of restaurant cuisines, is still somewhat underrepresented for the Peruvian cuisine but one chef has been changing that with a series of openings. After opening the highly praised Llama Inn several years ago (see my review of the restaurant here https://kenscale.com/2016/02/28/llamainn/), chef Erik Ramirez has been looking to open a new project focusing on the so-called Nikkei (a fusion of traditional Peruvian and Japanese cuisine influenced by the large Japanese immigrant community in the country) in West Village. The restaurant’s opening had been delayed for a long time (a kitchen fire was one of the culprits), but Llama San finally opened earlier this September. It had been one of the most anticipated openings in the city and the acclaims from professional critics soon followed. Still, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in with my wife Jun for an early Sunday dinner, mostly because my experience with this style of Nikkei cuisine has been somewhat mixed (see my reviews of other restaurants here https://kenscale.com/2015/12/24/maido/ and here https://kenscale.com/2017/11/16/sen-sakana/). Llama San quickly won me (and Jun) over.
In a given fusion cuisine combining the culinary influences of multiple countries, creativity more often than not lags behinds execution. I’m happy to report that the kitchen behind Llama San scores highly on both fronts. When she visited Peru for a friend’s wedding about four years ago, Jun immensely enjoyed a fruit called chirimoya, and was pleasantly surprised to find the fruit’s puree used for the scallop ceviche. She was even more ecstatic that the ceviche tasted absolutely fantastic with the puree that gives a citrusy flavor intended to enhance the quality of the seafood. I agree with her assessment that this is one of the best dishes at the restaurant. The only dish that we ordered that got a somewhat mixed review from both of us was the aged duck breast nigiri with nasturtium leaf on top. Despite having quickly become the signature dish at the restaurant, we both wished the mush of banana underneath the duck were something a bit more firm like rice you use in normal sushi.
Both of our main dishes were much more successful, though. While the fried Iberico pork didn’t come out the way we would typically expect in tightly fried Japanese tonkatsu pork cutlet, I was very fond of the way it worked with udon noodle in pesto; add a piece of the pork with some noodles and pickled cucumbers together and you have a winning formulation of complex flavor and texture. The other dish, a combination of lobster, beef heart and rice, was also a winner, giving a captivating spice flavor that Jun couldn’t stop digging on. The desserts skewed slightly closer to Japanese in flavor, which we didn’t complain. Thanks to a generous server, we were able to get two semifreddo-type dishes for a price of one. Jun was absolutely a fan of the one with miso flavor that was very well-balanced, and the one with black sesame wasn’t far behind either. If a Japanese café somewhere in Saint Marks had put these on their menu, I am confident they would’ve quickly gained a cult following.
Since the praises from the critics started to arrive in the fall, it has become increasingly difficult to get a reservation at Llama San. Do plan in advance if you are looking for a prime time table, or, as our server suggests, email the restaurant to see if there are any last minute openings. We had to get the bar seats initially, but were able to get a table seating before the food started coming in. There is full bar with a coastal themed wine list and a variety of cocktails using ingredients from Peru that will do well to complement your meal. The dining space more or less retains the same casual vibe from the Spanish restaurant Tertulia that once occupied it. I genuinely enjoyed our time at Llama San and can’t wait to go back again to try other dishes; perhaps next time we should go all out and go for the tasting menu at around $150 per person to get a more complete picture of the kitchen’s culinary philosophy (the server did note that an advance notice is required for the tasting menu). Llama San is no doubt one of the best restaurant openings in the city this year and I hope it thrives over a long period of time.
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 359 Sixth Avenue, New York, NY 10014
Telephone: (646) 490-4422